How to Inspire a Complacent Team

How to Inspire a Complacent Team

John Eades 08/10/2020 4
How to Inspire a Complacent Team

It’s hard to imagine anyone would sign up to become complacent. 

Complacency conjures visuals of an unengaged workforce, boredom, and marriages on life support. However, while deficient in many ways, complacency can be the catalyst that energizes, invigorates, and propels a person, team, or relationship to meet its full potential. 

It turns out, in the last few years, we were in a little bit of a complacency bubble. Research completed by an Achievers survey in 2019 found 70.1% of employees did not consider themselves “very engaged,” but only 34% of those professionals had a plan to look for a different job. While I hesitate to use any research done prior to the pandemic, it was clear employees weren’t engaged, yet they were comfortable staying where they were.  

Only time will tell if this pandemic will be the catalyst for causing the complacency bubble to burst in our workplaces; this will always be a challenge. Complacent is defined as feeling so satisfied with your own abilities or situation that you feel you do not need to try and harder. In our research studying leaders, even those in positions of leadership or ones with great responsibility, aren’t immune to feeling satisfied that they don’t need to try any harder.  

As you can see in the image below, our commitment will constantly be tested as time continues. 

Reject Complacency and Embrace Growth

It’s each leader and team member's responsibility to Reject Complacency and Embrace Growth.

Are You Embracing Growth 

One of the biggest causes of complacency is a lack of self-awareness that it’s happening. Like I said earlier, no one sets out to become complacent. If you are anything like me, you have got on a scale to weigh yourself and were caught by surprise at the inflated number. That number didn’t happen by accident, it happened because I got complacent in my choices and habits, and I lost awareness of it.   

There is a simple question to ask yourself to determine if you are embracing growth or falling complacent. “Am I actively working on getting better at ________?” Here are a few examples:

“Am I actively working on getting better as a leader?”

“Am I actively working on getting better in key technical skills?

“Am I actively working on getting better in my marriage?”

“Am I actively working on getting better in my faith walk?”

While the question is simple to ask, the answer can be complicated, especially if you aren’t self-aware. The ultimate test is to pose the question to someone close to you who would give you an objective and honest answer. The combination of your two answers is where the truth lies. 

Teams, Just Like Leaders, Can Become Complacent

If you find yourself leading a team that has become complacent and isn’t meeting or exceeding what they are capable of, it’s not time to sit back and hope it gets better. Hope isn’t a strategy. You need a tactical guide on how to rally a complacent team. Give some of these a shot to inject life into your group: 

1. Accept the Reality of Complacency

LearnLoft partners with HR leaders to help their executives and managers to lead their best. Many of these leaders aren’t ready to accept that their team has become complacent. They find a myriad of excuses for the lack of effort, energy, and intensity the team displays on a day in and day out basis. Get into the proper headspace and embrace the reality of the situation so you can look to make some changes.  

2. Narrow Down a List of Causes for the Complacency

Since the ability to become satisfied with a situation can come from many different places, part of your job is to identify the root causes for the team as a whole or key individuals on the team.  

A few of the typical reasons include:

  • Being overpaid
  • Work is no longer challenging
  • Outcomes lose their original meaning

There is a less popular reason, and that is getting a lot of praise and accolades for success. On a recent episode of 3 Things with Ric Elias, Coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats said, “It’s everyone’s job not to drink the poison of praise.” This makes incredible sense because the praise and recognition come from falling in love with the grind and the process of where the results come from.  

3. Open Up the Lines of Communication

Once you have a few strong suspicions for what might be causing the complacency, it’s time to open up the lines of communication with the team. Create an environment that allows people to say what needs to be said. Often this means air out grievances or feelings people have been holding onto.   “Teams can’t perform at their best when things that need to be said are going unsaid.” 

Open and honest communication allows teams to say the things that need to be said which creates the space to recommit to the effort required for success.

4. Reconnect the Team to the Cause 

Reconnecting your team to the reason it exists in the first place is a great place to begin when the complacency bubble is in full effect. The reason is simple, as time passes it’s easy to forget why we are on this mission in the first place.  A clear cause is instrumental in achieving higher levels of success.  

Do not go another minute without being clear on why your team is doing what it's doing. It's easy for people to get lost in the monotony of their everyday work without considering how their work impacts the larger organization and customers. 

If you're unsure how to communicate this to your team, start by answering these two complicated yet straightforward questions:

What do you do, and why do you do it? (Hint: it's got to be more than making money)

It's easy to skim past this question, but I'm challenging you to pause. Reread it and ask yourself if each member of your team could answer it with clarity. If the answer is no, you have some work to do.

5. Challenge the Team with Smaller Goals

The verb form of the word "team" means coming together as a group to achieve a common goal. Complacent teams or people need a challenge to get excited about, which means you have to set a goal the team cares about achieving. Any random revenue or earning goal won’t do.   Great leaders define short term goals their team cares about achieving.

Research has revealed that setting challenging and specific goals further enhance employee engagement in attaining those goals. Google uses Objectives and Key Results (OKR's) to help managers and their teams perform better. Start small and get the team back in the mode of achieving goals that challenge them to be focused and at their best. 


Instead of looking at complacency as a dead end, it’s time to leverage it as a catalyst for growth. If you or your team find yourself complacent, now is the time to put some do something about it. You are just the leader to reject complacency and embrace growth.

How do you reject complacency and embrace growth? Provide some insight in the comments to help others do the same.

Download the Mastering the Mights Skills Toolkit. Want to know the most important leadership skills for any professional to master? Check out the Mighty Skills Toolkit for free Here.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn's Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

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  • Danny Maguire

    I set strong boundaries to manage my team....

  • Carlos Lepe

    Good read

  • Darren Brenton

    I challenge my team every day... I reward positive attitude and also discuss whenever someone is lost or falling in complacency.

  • Kevin S

    Good stuff

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John Eades

Leadership Expert

John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on, LinkedIn Pulse,,, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College. 

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